Facebook Live Broadcast: Special Agent Veterans
On November 10, 2016, the FBI hosted a Facebook Live event in honor of Veterans Day. It featured a discussion with two special agents with prior military service.
Elyse Levine: Hey guys, welcome to the show. We are excited to be back chatting with you guys. My name is Elyse Levine. I am with the FBI Human Resources Division. I am here with Matt Fine in our Cyber Division and Jim Jewel in our Training Division to talk a little bit about our Veterans becoming special agents. So in honor of Veterans Day, we are talking about certain careers for service members, and we’re excited to be here chatting with you so before I just start the show I just want to call out our special agent application is actually open. You can go to apply.FBIJobs.gov right now and submit your application. In your application, you can actually select this Facebook event. It’s FBI Live Veteran Special Agents. Feel free to select that in your application just so we know you came from here and feel free to reach out to your local field office application coordinator with any other questions that you have. So Matt and Jim, we are very excited to have you here with us today talking a little bit about your experiences, and I would just love to get started if you could maybe introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about what was your military background and your FBI career so far. Jim, do you want to start?
Jim Jewell: Thank you, Elyse. So my military background was a naval officer out of college which I did four years active service and then four years in the military reserves before arriving within the FBI special agent rank. I was assigned primarily active duty service to a destroyer based out in Charleston but I spent a lot of time in an overseas environment and my reserve service. I did some different types of reserve duties both forward deployed and within the United States. I always had a goal to go be an FBI special agent very young so that is why I pursued an FBI career beyond my military time.
Matt Fine: I was a product of ROTC in college and that is how I entered my military service. I want to say Happy Veterans Day to all the veterans out there. Thank you for your service. After I did my military service, which was three years with the U.S. Army, I went to a job fair and met an FBI agent who was recruiting and that was my first introduction to the FBI environment possibly as an occupation. Fulfilled my application and joined the FBI a few years later after doing a couple of years in the private sector.
Elyse: Cool. What was your career? Where did you start in the FBI, and how did you get where you are now?
Matt: So after new agent training in Quantico, you get your assignment and you go to the field, and I was assigned to the Philadelphia Division where I primarily worked white-collar crimes initially and I started off, I was one of the first agents in our cyber investigator program. Cyber Division didn’t exist until the 2004 range. So I was one of the first cyber agents. I did seven or eight years in the field before I came to Headquarters and got into the management ranks.
Jim: After my active duty naval service, I went to graduate school. I worked for Ernst and Young and Coopers and Lybrand, two consulting firms before I entered the FBI as a special agent. As a special agent, I started out in the Houston Field Office. I worked seven years in Houston primarily working financial crimes initially: bank fraud and then I worked on the Arthur Anderson Enron investigation followed by a period on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Then promoted to Headquarters. Worked on Capitol Hill as an appropriations liaison. Worked for the FBI, worked for Intelligence Directorate at Headquarters. Spent the next 7.5 years in North Carolina in both a supervisory special agent role as well as a assistant special agent in charge role for the state of North Carolina. In 2014, I was promoted back to Quantico to the FBI Academy as a section chief there of the Training Division.
Elyse: Wow, so you both went back to the civilian sector before you came to become FBI special agents, right? How do you think that your military career and then your time in the private sector prepared you for your career as agents?
Jim: Yeah, the military career is something I sort of had to go as used to be both FBI special agent and in the military. And both the synonymous aspect of a military officer requires you to be very flexible and agile in a mission set which is very similar to special agent work early on in my career. The private sector experience I had following graduate school working as a litigation consultant for a couple of large CPA firms was very valuable as well. Look for every opportunity to gain experience that will help you as you move forward in your career.
Matt: I would agree with that. I did the military service, as Jim said, pretty structured environment. Common mission with your employees. Jumped to the civilian sector. A lot less structured. But learned a lot of great valuable skills there that you wouldn’t necessarily learn in the military such as business processes, budget and finance work, and then going to the FBI you are able to take all of those skills from the military and the private sector. Put them together and your much better and valuable employee to the team, I thought. So I thought both sides were very valuable, as far as experience is concerned bringing it to the FBI. I think that’s why we have employees that are coming in with some experience. Not coming out right out of college that provide that valuable diversity of skills.
Elyse: Yeah, and so how does sort of the environment and culture in the FBI differ from the culture in the military? Especially as an agent?
Matt: I’ll start off. I think there are a lot of similarities. Like I said before there are a lot of common goals. Teamwork is huge in both organizations but I think the one area that is different from a private life standpoint is you have a little bit more free time, where as the military tells you where to be, when to be, and how to be it much of your time. You have a little bit more private time, family time. You’re not being deployed overseas like Jim was for maybe months at a time. You can choose to do that in the FBI but it’s more for choice in a voluntary status then being told the whole unit/battalion is going overseas for a deployment. That’s a little rougher on the family life, and I think the FBI is a little more accommodating in that sense.
Jim: I agree with Matt. The FBI organization itself is somewhat of paramilitary organization at its history. You know we required special agents to carry a weapon, and you have to protect life at times. And the use of deadly force in your job requirement is similar to the military. You do have a structured organization. It is a bureaucracy much like the military. Your off duty time is more your personal to yourself as an FBI special agent. And you probably have more of a sense of a direction of controlling your own career. In the military, you have career specialists that guide you through your military officer career. Where as in the FBI, it’s really your career and you make certain decisions, which impact how you move forward.
Elyse: Yeah, definitely. For those of you who are just joining us on the show, my name is Elyse Levine, and I am from the FBI Human Resources Division. I am here with Jim Jewel and Matt Fine, both special agents, who were former service members and talking about their experiences as veterans in the FBI. So we actually have a question. Airman A asks, “Can the maximum age requirements be waived by the years of service?” The answer to that is yes, Airman. You can waive the maximum age requirement. My recommendation would be to visit FBIJobs.gov/veterans for more information on that, and also to reach out to the applicant coordinator in your local field office who can give you more details of how to actually go about that process. And Colby asks, “How old do you have to be, and does working with the Marine Corps help?” Thanks for the question, Colby, and happy birthday to all the Marines out there. So the maximum age requirement is, I believe, 36 and a half for your application but as we just mentioned veterans can actually have that requirement waived. Please visit FBIjobs.gov/veterans for more information on that. So Matt, how old were you when you actually joined the FBI?
Matt: I was 27 years old when I joined the FBI, which is on the younger spectrum of incoming agents. The average age is 31, around the 31 year old mark, and I believe that the maturation of the late 20s early 30s really helps the FBI and I think that’s what the FBI looks for on those seasoned personnel in the workforce.
Jim: And Elyse, I came in at the age of 30 which is about the age of the average agent in 1996 when I started coming through Quantico and I think the FBI, Matt said about the experience and the maturity and the experience level, allows you to move forward early on as a special agent and be successful. You’ve had other world experiences. That’s what is somewhat unique of the FBI culture but it’s paid benefits for us for a number of years by doing that.
Matt: I’ll comment and follow on that. I think the diversity and the added experiences from all walks of life helps. Jim was in the Navy. I was in the Army. We have colleagues who were in the civilian sector. That’s what makes the FBI really strong is our diversity both from the skill [aspect] and also how we were raised and what part of the country we are from. So I think that’s what the FBI really looks for is diversity.
Elyse: Yeah, definitely. So you both mention diversity. You both mention maturity. What other characteristics do service members typically have, based off their experiences that make good FBI special agents?
Jim: Dedication to the organization’s mission. We are both in the position we’re in to protect the U.S. Constitution and protect its citizens both at home and abroad. So that is a common bind. Matt mentioned earlier, teamwork. Teamwork is very crucial in both organizations. The ability to work together to solve problems and issues and mitigate threats. I think those are very common characteristics.
Matt: I think there’s definitely a commonality and that’s leadership. When the FBI shows up at an activity or an event, they look to the FBI to lead. The U.S. military is the same I believe so I think that’s where the commonality is really breached/bridged very easily. We are in the leadership business and so is the military and so that’s an easy transition.
Elyse: Do you think that’s helped? You are both leaders in this organization. Do you think that’s helped prepare you sort of for the challenges and opportunities you faced as leaders here?
Matt: I absolutely do. I think especially when you are in the military like Jim and I were. We were younger, very young, in our early 20s and you have to learn a lot of lessons at that young age and you are commanding people that are much older than you sometimes and that’s a experience that you don’t get in any other line of business other than perhaps the military. Also, the diversity of the military, you have all walks of life there. People who are poor and people from the middle class. And all diversity of races in there. Hispanic, Latino, African-American, Asian-American… all walks of life. And that really builds your character, I believe as a leader. That comes from the military but it can be transitioned to the FBI very easily. Leadership is a philosophy from day one at your arrival at Quantico. You are evaluated by your leadership and teamwork skills. That’s not unusual or not really different from the military in many ways.
Elyse: Yeah, definitely. So we have another question. Sam asks, “I’m a disabled veteran who is interested in applying for the special agent position. Can I?” Yes, you can. We do have waivers and make reasonable accommodations throughout the special agent selection process. Again, my recommendation is to visit FBI.jobs.gov/veterans. There are all kinds of resources there for veterans and there’s also OPM’s guide – the Office of Personnel Management’s - guide to veterans and that takes you through the whole process, 5 point/10 point veterans preference. Everything along those lines. So that is definitely a recommendation there. Thank you for the question. So kind of speaking of kind of coming into the Bureau and sort of preparing you for your career. How does training at Quantico compare with your basic training in the military?
Jim: While I can start and say as I run the training program at Quantico at this point. So again I went through a training program in the Navy that was an Officer Candidate Selection process and that was designed to really identify those individuals that could succeed and move forward in the program and so there was a different objective in the training. The FBI Academy program is already receiving experienced professionals that already have professional level career experience. Where as a Naval officer candidate school, an ROTC program, those individuals do not necessarily have those pre-professional level experience. The FBI Academy works very hard to keep those individuals who arrive on campus in the program. So our objective is to keep them in the fight, keep them in the academic program, keep them in the physical fitness. The law enforcement skills, the firearms programs, and get them to graduation. Whereas in the Naval OCS program that I went through… it was somewhat of a thinning of the numbers and there was an objective to identify those that were weak performers and really counsel them out of the program to not move forward. But many of the educational experiences get beyond that initial training. They are very much parallels. You are both training for the missions of foreign born activities and training to mitigate threats of some nature.
Matt: So I would agree Jim that there are a lot of similarities. I think that the best way to describe it is a blend of an ROTC, OCS program where there are rigors of physical training but also from a collegiate point of view. There are a lot of classroom training in the FBI Academy and you blend them both. It’s a rigorous course. It’s about 20 weeks/21 weeks so but your time is taken up in that training. They really stuff a lot of information and training into you which is great but the best way to describe it is to say it’s a blend of boot camp, officer basic course, and college. Classroom and physical training and firearms and stuff like that.
Elyse: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. And so after you finished your training at Quantico obviously. So all special agents candidates sign a mobility agreement and you are kind of placed in a field office. Is that sort of similar to what happens in the military, and how does that process compare?
Matt: There are some similarities. I don’t know how it is in the Navy. In the Army, you do get to put a little bit of preference out there but just like the Bureau and the military, it’s the need of the organization where they place you. And then your first couple years you’re just not off on your own. They provide a training agent to watch you and help mentor you while you’re learning the skills in a field environment. There’s are a lot of responsibilities out there. There is always somebody helping you out. Showing you the ropes. The military has similar training curriculum with the company commander for example. They will have officer training. That’s taken off to the side for the junior officers so there are some similarities there. But where that is pure training, the FBI is a little bit more of on the job training then you are taking off to a deployment cycle and training in a safe environment. Sometimes you are training on the job with the FBI.
Jim: Yeah, I think the military has a legacy of training, really training very well for a job/career paths and sometimes the FBI tries to mirror the job path training based on the military structure because it is done very well. The orders is very significant in the FBI. We have an orders night ceremony at Quantico when the special agents and the intelligence analysts receive their orders because they don’t know where they are going. They are going to likely 1 of 56 or maybe 57 locations across the United States. And then another three to four hundred resident FBI offices across the United States. It’s very exciting for them. Some are very happy and some are very disappointed in their location. But we all sign on the bottom line when we arrive. We know that there are no guarantee on where we are going to be assigned as FBI special agents or as intelligence analysts. The military you sort of have a known volume of naval bases. As a young naval officer I knew somewhat of where I was going to go to. On the military training and education piece, we are allowed to work to identify those who scored higher or who were at a higher rank on their class structure were allowed to pick their order location depending on their rank. The FBI doesn’t allow that. If you are at Quantico, you can put down your preferences and we do try to match preferences based on skill set and experience to where you go but there’s a large number of offices you may end up in.
But no matter where you end up, it’s going to be a great experience. I went to Philadelphia which was not on the top of my list but it was one of the best experiences I have had. I made some tremendous friends. I ultimately met [the person] who is now my wife in Philadelphia so if I didn’t get sent there I wouldn’t have met her. So no matter where you get assigned, you will have a great experience.
Jim: I would add to that It’s really a strength of the organization to maybe take people that are out of their comfort zone and place them into new locales around the United States and in different areas. I think that’s a tradition that has benefited the FBI, its personnel, and its investigative mission.
Elyse: Yeah, definitely. I just want to welcome anybody who is joining the broadcast with us right now. Thank you for joining us. We are here talking a little bit about veterans becoming special agents in the FBI in honor of Veterans Day. Happy Veterans Day again to everybody watching. We have a couple of questions here. Joseph asks, “What was your military rank upon discharge before you joined, Jim?”
Jim: So my last rank in the Navy was a Lieutenant Commander. You go from ensign to Lieutenant Commander. I achieved the Lieutenant Commander rank in my reserve service after active duty and that’s what I was placed. Honorably discharged before joining the FBI.
Matt: Yeah, I left the after three years of the military service as a first Lieutenant and then went into the private ranks.
Elyse Okay, great. And Jeremy asks, “Does the FBI [provide] age waivers for veterans? I will be retiring in 18 months at 38 years old. I meet all the minimal requirements to apply.” Yes, Jeremy. You can still apply. Please contact your applicant coordinator in your local field office and they can take you through the waiver process. There is a waiver process for veterans for the maximum age requirement. So Jim, I want to get back to what you were saying about so on orders night the new agents and the new analysts sort of get their orders for where they are going to be and I know that a major key component of our training is sort of that integration between agents and analysts. Does that… how does the integration between what agents do and analysts do work in the FBI versus in the military?
Jim: So it’s a change for the FBI. We started in 2015 in the basic training course where we combine intelligence analysts and special agent trainees in the same class. As an EOD – enter on duty – within the FBI at Quantico, they spend approximately 12 weeks together working through various problems. Squad issues. Learning the legalities of the FBI. The mission. The culture. The organization. Intelligence analysts will graduate about week 12 in the basic field training course. And the special agent candidates continue for another 9 to 10 weeks within the training course before they graduate about week 22. After spending weeks at Quantico, I was an Intelligence Program manager in North Carolina as an assistant special agent in charge. And I had the Intelligence Program for 7.5 years in North Carolina, and I can tell you the benefits of having an integrated training program. The FBI as an intelligence dedicated program has really changed since 9/11 attacks. And our successes have been the growth of the program and the integration. A true… one of the key success cases or mitigation of threats… currently most of those investigations involve both intelligence analysts and investigations from a special agent or a task force environment in the FBI which is huge.
Matt: Yeah so the way I would describe it is it is, of now, more like the Marine Corps where everybody goes through one course – Officer Basic Course for the Marine Corps – and they are cut from the same cloth. They share the same experiences. And that’s big with the team. In the Army and other services, you have specialties and you go to that course and you train and you integrate later in a task force environment. And it still works but the FBI has a much more diverse threat environment I believe and so when you’re cut from the same cloth, you are training like the intelligence analysts and special agents are doing right now you understand the role of your colleague and it’s much more seamless of whose role and whose responsibility it is for a certain threat or certain performance of activity.
Matt: So that’s been a change for the FBI in the last year or two, I guess, Jen. And I think we’re going to see the fruits of that model now.
Elyse: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So we have about 10 minutes left and I sort of want to turn the conversation to, you know, why do you think that service members should consider joining the FBI? You know, maybe, instead of going to maybe another government agency?
Jim: Well, I think… So one thing the FBI offers is really a unique and diverse set of investigative activities. Our mission set is really amazing compared to other federal law enforcement organizations. We have more than 300 federal violations that we are the primary agency responsible for. So, that really gives you the flexibility to do different types of work within the same organization. You see people take advantage of that throughout their careers. You know, I’ve worked core financial crimes investigations. I’ve worked major public corruption, white-collar investigations – the Enron task force, the Arthur Anderson investigation. I’ve moved to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Burma. I’ve worked dedicated intelligence in North Carolina. As intelligence program coordinator and manager I was involved in various counterintelligence matters, counterterrorism matters; criminal fugitive cases; kidnapping cases; worked with our joint special operations commander; worked threats in an overseas environment. So it’s just a diverse set of opportunities that is very unique to the FBI and federal law enforcement. So if you have an interest in that type of work, there’s no better position than the FBI special agent position in my opinion.
Matt: Yeah so, from my perspective, the interest might be in, call it action. There’s a lot of action in the FBI, there’s a lot of crisis. For the past few years I worked in the crisis coordinator kind of role for one division, and you get to work some big, big cases, the biggest cases in the FBI – the Boston Marathon bombing; the Charleston church shooting; the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri; San Bernardino terrorist attack. And so, there’s a lot of value in military experience in that sense. I was with the 101st airborne division quick reaction force, where you’re gone in a moment’s notice and there’s a lot of excitement that goes along with that, a lot of hard work. Then you see a lot of fruits of your labor, too, directly with, sometimes, victims in the United States. So, in that case, I think the translation from the military service to the FBI is great.
Elyse: Yeah. What kind of impact do you feel you have as an FBI special agent versus the impact that you had as a service member? How does that differ?
Matt: So, I think there’s a lot of similarities. You’re defending the country, of course. You’re defending the American people. I think the difference, and Jim and I discussed this earlier, is you have direct contact with who you’re protecting in the FBI. You’re meeting victims all the time, of criminal activities, terrorist activities, and all sorts of other violations we cover. There’s more of a human factor, I believe, with the FBI than the military. The military, you are defending the country of course, but you’re typically doing it overseas away from the American people, I would say, generally speaking, not all the time. With the FBI, there’s a lot more closer contact with who you’re protecting and what you’re protecting.
Jim: That’s true, man. I did discuss that. It’s those individual experiences you’ll have with victims or witnesses in trials and just have those conversations or have individuals that thank you for, you know, saving their life savings or thank you for returning a lost child or a kidnap victim. So you have those personal kind of experiences and you can see casework from beginning to end. Whereas the military is great as well, in the mission set, as far as protecting the U.S. Constitution and the people of the United States both home and abroad. You actually have that opportunity as well in the FBI. So, that’s probably the biggest difference.
Matt: There’s a little bit more of an emotional attachment. You own the cases. You own the investigations as an FBI special agent. You do own your mission as a military officer, but it’s a little bit more of a team environment. Just a little bit more. So it’s collective, but you’re responsible as an FBI special agent on your investigation. Usually it’s with a team, but you are solely responsible. And so, there’s a little bit more of an emotional attachment, I believe, in my experience, with your case and perhaps your victim. But it’s a very good reward for both sides, the military and the FBI.
Elyse: Yeah, definitely. So, we have another question. “Is the Bureau flexible on allowing active duty soldiers to apply and proceed through the hiring process while being flexible working around deployments and training, so the soldier can have a seamless transition?” Yes, I believe that is the case. We do try to sensitively work around everything. And so there are multiple opportunities, for example, in terms of scheduling, to take phase 1 exam, phase 2 exam. My recommendation would be to reach out to your applicant coordinators and they’ll help you sort of work around, and they’ll schedule the process for you. So, definitely do that. Leo asks, “Can my bachelor’s degree be in anything or does the FBI prefer certain degrees?” That’s a really great question, Leo. Thank you for asking. Your degree can be in anything. Literally anything. We accept people, we love people, from all walks of life, all different kinds of experiences and backgrounds. What was your background coming into the FBI?
Jim: So, I majored in accounting in college because I wanted to be an FBI special agent very young and knew that accounting was one of the preferred majors at times the FBI… at times the FBI does recruit heavier for certain types of backgrounds, but for the most part, it’s a very diverse population of individuals from various cultures, educational experiences and majors across the board. So don’t be locked in with, “I have to be either a lawyer or an accountant.” I hear that often at recruiting events, “Do I have to have a law degree or be in accounting?” That’s not a requirement.
Matt: I would agree. The strength is our diversity. Now my class, FBI academy class, over a half was military and law enforcement, which is a little out of the norm. But we had a biochemist, we had engineers, we had a kindergarten teacher in our class. It’s amazing what breadth of work areas we actually draw from. That diversity is the alloy, kind of…alloy is stronger than a pure metal. So we try to pull from all sorts of walks of life. It just so happen, I think, the military and law enforcement is a natural progression from a career to the FBI. It’s similar skillsets. But we are getting more diverse, I would say, at least.
Elyse: Yeah, yeah we definitely are. Can you still apply… Sorry, there’s one question. “What is the best way to apply if you’re unsure what job title you want? Local field office or online? I can see a lot of openings but I’m unsure what I qualify for.” So, yeah I mean, my advice to that would be, I think you should reach out to your local field office. You can have that conversation with your applicant coordinator. You know, if you can think about sort of where your expertise is and what you kind of hope to be doing. Whether you sort of want to be in on the action as a special agent or you sort of want to be conducting research, that may be more be an intelligence analyst. But sort of think about kind of what would you like to be doing. And we can help find the right job title for you.
Matt: I’d like to add to that. There’s a lot of FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, and all sorts of employees around the community. I bet, either you or your friend knows, perhaps an FBI employee and you just ask them. I get asked all the time from young students sometimes of what my career is like. So engage an FBI employee. Ask them what their life is like inside the FBI. And ask them about the different job opportunities. There’s plenty of different diverse job opportunities in the FBI.
Elyse: Yeah, absolutely. So I know we’re kind of closing up now. So I just want to close by asking each of you, what is sort of the one piece of advice or fact that you would want to give service members considering becoming FBI special agents?
Jim: Really, live their dreams. If that’s what… If they have a desire to be an FBI special agent, pursue it. And make sure you reach out, contact, ask questions. There’s hope for everybody, I mean, Matt was in the Army.
Jim: If you have an interest in that, there’s no better position so please pursue your interests.
Matt: And I would just say continue to learn, acquire skills, no matter what it is. Jim mentioned earlier, you know, sometimes you think you have to be down a certain route of skills or a degree. I think, again, diversity. Whatever you can bring that somebody else may not be able to bring. We didn’t even talk about the linguist program, different language skills, technical skills, stuff like that. That’s what makes the FBI strong, and that’s why the FBI is interested in those types of candidates.
Elyse: Yeah, definitely. Well, thank you both so much for joining us today, and thank you everybody for watching. The special agent application is open. Please feel free to go ahead and apply. If you have any questions, please visit us at Fbijobs.gov. We’ll describe the special agent selection process. There is a section on the site just for veterans and veteran’s resources, so feel free to visit that. Follow us on Facebook at this page, Twitter @Fbijobs and @FBI, as well as on LinkedIn or on all these places. And we really hope to see you in the FBI soon. Thank you so much for joining us.
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